Food writer Melissa Hemsley shares her tips on reducing food waste

Waste warrior, food writer and cheerleader for sustainability, Melissa Hemsley talks to Ella Walker about her new veg-led cookbook.

Melissa Hemsley Picture:: Ebury Press/Sarah Malcolm/PA.

Things are undoubtedly changing. Call it the Blue Planet II effect, or simply an inevitable waking up to the demands we put on the planet, but more than ever before, the choices we make daily – and especially at dinnertime – come with a side of: is this environmentally justifiable?

It’s an idea that threads its way through Melissa Hemsley’s new cookbook, Eat Green. Veg-heavy (but not fully vegetarian), it focuses on all the little ways we can cut waste and get dinner on the table without feeling like quite such dreadful, energy-sapping humans.

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The London-based 34-year-old, of sister double act Hemsley+Hemsley calls it a guide on how to “get the most out of food, be frugal, be thrifty – but in a positive way”.

Melissa Hemsley from Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley. Picture : Ebury Press/Philippa Langley/PA.

“[For] my Roman Catholic Filipino mum, throwing food away was a sin,” says Hemsley of her upbringing, “which can make you feel guilty and is a bit preachy and scary. But I’ve really realised that for those of us who care about the planet, [the stats around food waste are] something we could all probably do with addressing.”

She is well aware how easy it can be to succumb to the panic and despair those food waste statistics can induce; a third of all food produced is wasted somewhere along the line, and according to charity WRAP, 85 per cent of that waste happens at home.

“There is this deep sadness about what’s going on in the world, but also, you go to marches and you talk to people about it, and there’s also a very, ‘We’re all in this, let’s get on with it’ optimism,” muses Hemsley, who cooked for Extinction Rebellion during several of the group’s 2019 climate protests.

“But I agree that sometimes it can be so incredibly overwhelming that you don’t know where to start.”

“Life happens,” she continues, “things do end up in the bin, but what can we do to stop that happening as much as possible?”

Eat Green presents some of those possibilities. Packed with tips for using up some of the most binned fruit and veg items, it’s positively boisterous, teeming with feelgood ways to stretch your food, fill your belly with good stuff and greenery, and make your cooking life a little easier.

Self-taught chef Hemsley encourages batch-cooking, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic (wherever possible), not overusing the same ingredients (poor beloved avocados and chickpeas), eating seasonally, making a judgement on eating certain items past their sell-by-date, and being flexible (“My mum basically taught me: be flexible, use what you’ve got”).

And that’s not even mentioning her favourite thing; filling up the freezer, so all you have to do is defrost dinner.

“I only feel good when I’ve got food in the freezer,” she says. Hemsley is clear – she just wants her recipes to be helpful and useful: “I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their lives.”

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley, Ebury Press, £22.